After a gap of over five years, the issue of mandatory rural postings has once again sparked protests among medical students in the city.

On Wednesday, over 100 students of Madras Medical College took to the streets demanding that the Centre withdraw its proposal to make one-year rural postings compulsory for MBBS doctors keen on pursuing a postgraduate degree. Instead, the students said, permanent posts should be created in rural areas.

“We are ready to serve in rural areas not just for a year but all our lives. All we are asking for is permanent posts. The healthcare system in Tamil Nadu is better than those in other States, and less than 10 per cent of posts in primary health centres are vacant,” said S. Prasanth, a third-year medical student and secretary of the Tamil Nadu Medical Students Association.

At the end of 2007, the State witnessed widespread protests by medical students after the Union health ministry proposed a similar move, by lengthening the five-and-a-half-year MBBS course by one year.

“Nearly 40,000 medical students graduate in the country every year. By posting them to rural areas, the Centre can cut down on salaries, increments and other benefits given to permanent staff members. This is just a cost-cutting measure,” said G. Ramesh, who is pursuing a postgraduate degree at Government Stanley Medical College and had participated in the 2007 protests as an undergraduate student from the medical college in Tiruchi.

“Don’t people in rural areas need permanent doctors?” another student asked.

G.R. Ravindranath, general secretary of Doctors Association for Social Equality said the move was against women’s higher education.

The students have appealed to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to intervene and oppose the Centre’s move, as health is a State subject.